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John Edwards heading back to private practice in N.C.

Former lawmaker and presidential candidate John Edwards, whose political career crumbled amid revelations of an extramarital affair and allegations of campaign finance violations, is heading back to private practice.

Edwards, who worked as a plaintiffs-side personal injury and product liability attorney in North Carolina before being elected to the U.s. Senate and later launching vice presidential and presidential campaigns,  is looking to start a new firm based in Raleigh, sources tell CNN (HT: National Law Journal).

Since receding from public view after his trial on the campaign finance charges resulted in acquittals on some charges and mistrials on others, Edwards has lived in Chapel Hill. He remains an active member of the North Carolina bar, according to CNN.

 

Poll: TV judge more trusted than Supremes

The most trusted judge in America does not sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. She presides over a television soundstage.

Television star Judge Judy ranked highest among judges in Reader’s Digest’s survey of the most trusted people in America, ranking 28th on the magazine’s top 100 List. She edged out the most trusted justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who came in 36th on the list.

The least trusted justice still made the top 100; Justice Clarence Thomas came in 88th in the poll.

HT: ABA Journal

10 justices hear oral arguments

Spotted at the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday morning: Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

O’Connor sat in the courtroom as the Court’s nine sitting justices took up the issue of whether the use of a drug sniffing dog outside of a house is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. O’Connor frequently drops by her former stomping grounds when she is in Washington.

Is Ted Olson the highest-paid lawyer?

It is no surprise that BigLaw attorneys charge lots of money, and that veteran Supreme Court litigators are at the top of the pecking order of that group. But it is a bit of a jolt to hear of a lawyer billing a whopping $1,800 per hour.

According to court bankruptcy case filings that give a rare glimpse into the billing rates of lawyers at Gibson Dunn, that is the amount partner Ted Olson pulls in for 60 minutes of his time, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

The rate charged by former solicitor general, who is known for his work on countless high-profile high court cases from Bush v. Gore to the current challenge to California’s Proposition 8, is the highest on record according to a database of publicly-disclosed rates. Also pulling in the big bucks at the firm is Justice Antonin G. Scalia’s son Eugene, who bills a respectable $980 per hour despite the fact that his father once said: “There’s something wrong with a system where getting someone just a little bit brighter is worth that kind of money.”

Celebrity Justice Sotomayor (access required)

Justice Sonia Sotomayor already made history by becoming the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice. But in less than two years on the bench, she has been setting precedent in another way – by speaking frequently and candidly at events across the country, demonstrating her ability to have fun, and developing a following that has made her one if the Court’s most well-known jurists.

In her official capacity, she’s no shrinking violet, notes Bloomberg News’ Greg Stohr. In her written opinions, she has spoken out in opinions and dissents in cases involving issues like prisoners rights and the death penalty. During oral arguments she is vocal as well. In one recent case, she interjected 31 times, Stohr noted.

But she has also made her voice heard off the bench, making appearances at schools, public speaking engagements and law school moot court competitions, often speaking candidly about her own experiences.

“Almost everything I’ve done I’ve been frightened about, including being a Supreme Court justice,” she recently told a crowd at the University of Chicago Law School.

At a recent US Berkeley law moot court competition, she said: “I do moot courts because, every once in a while, I need an injection of hope.”

Though she hasn’t been on the Court long, a Findlaw.com poll found that she is better known than all but two justices: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas.

And while several other justices also make frequent public appearances at moot court competitions and speaking engagements, Sotomayor’s celebrity justice status has been bolstered by hobnobbing with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and salsa dancing in public. She can’t even have dinner with a colleague without the press taking note.

Sotomayor seems to be embracing her public persona.

“I think it’s important for the judge to be out in the world,” she said.

Scalia and Breyer take sparring match on the road (access required)

If you’ve ever visited the U.S. Supreme Court to watch oral arguments, changes are good that you saw a little verbal jousting between Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. The Court’s two most verbal (and funniest) jurists don’t see eye to eye on a number of judicial philosophies.

But an audience in Lubbock Texas didn’t have to travel to Washington to see the two justices spar Friday. Scalia and Breyer brought their battle to the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center.

Round 1: The death penalty

“There’s not an ounceworth of room for debate as to whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because, at the time the Eighth Amendment was adopted – the cruel and unusual punishments clause – it was the only punishment for a felony,” said the Sicilian orginalist from Queens, according to the Associated Press. “It was the definition of a felony. It’s why we have Western movies because horse thieving was a felony.”

“”And indeed there were whipping posts where people were flogged virtually to death up until the middle of the 19th century,” said the pragmatist Frisco Kid. “If we had a case like that today I’d like to see how you’d vote.”

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s stupid that’s not unconstitutional.” Scalia retorted later.

Round 2: Statutory interpretation

“There are ways of determine how and what the legislature was thinking of … to determine what is the object of this law,” Breyer said, The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.

“The only thing you know for sure is the words of the statute,” Scalia said. II don’t at all look to what I think the legislature thought. I frankly don’t care what the legislature thought.”

“That’s the problem,” Breyer quipped.

Round 3: Changing the Constitution

“There’s very little that I would change,” Scalia said. “I would change it back to what they wrote, in some respects. The 17th Amendment [which provides for U.S. senators to be elected by people instead of state legislatures] has changed things enormously. We changed that in a burst of progressivism in 1913, and you can trace the decline of so-called states’ rights throughout the rest of the 20th century. So, don’t mess with the Constitution.”

“There have been lots of ups and downs in the enforcement of this Constitution, and one of the things that’s been quite ugly – didn’t save us from the Civil War – is that there is a system of changing the Constitution through amendment,” Breyer said. “It’s possible to do but not too easy.”

While the verbal fireworks are fun, Breyer said the two don’t always lock rams.

“From the outside you think we disagree about everything, but we’re unanimous in our court about 40 percent of the time,” Breyer said.

But, Breyer added later: “We can disagree about almost anything.”

Tribe: Sotomayor’s a ‘bully’ and ‘not nearly as smart as she thinks she is’ (access required)

Politically savvy folks should know by now that if they put their thoughts or opinions down on paper – even in a confidential memo to the president – they will one day see the light of day.

Case in point: yesterday’s unearthing of a May 2009 letter noted Harvard Law School professor, Supreme Court litigator and presidential advisor Laurence Tribe wrote to President Barack Obama giving his thoughts on who should – and should not – replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who had just announced his retirement.

Tribe warned Obama that appointing “someone like Sonia Sotomayor” was a bad idea.

“Bluntly put, she is not nearly as smart as she seems to think she is, and her reputation for being something of a bully could make her liberal impulses backfire and simply add to the fire power of the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas wing of the Court on issues [like] voting rights and the Title VII case of the New Haven firefighters,” Tribe wrote, referencing then Judge Sotomayor’s role in the 2nd Circuit ruling in the controversial firefighter discrimination case Ricci v. DeStefano.

In the letter – posted yesterday by conservative commentator Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center – Tribe strongly urged Obama to select Elena Kagan, the former dean of Harvard Law whom Tribe knew well, for Souter’s seat.

Tribe wrote that Kagan’s “combination of intellectual brilliance and political skill would make her a ten-strike, if you will forgive my reference to bowling.”

Tribe also said he was a fan of 7th Cir. Judge Diane Wood, who he called “more powerful intellectually than Sonia Sotomayor or any of the others mentioned as plausible prospects at the moment with the sole exception of Kagan.” But he noted that, given Wood’s age, she “would be likely to serve nearly a decade less than Elena and doesn’t appear to me to have the dynamic personality or the extraordinary diplomatic gifts for inspiring confidence and for moving others.”

In a National Review Online piece accompanying the letter, Whelan noted that after Sotomayor’s nomination, Tribe seemed to show support for the nominee in a New York Times article. “The president’s inquiries into the way she interacts convinced him that she would be a positive force in the chemistry of the Supreme Court,” Tribe told the Times.

“Translation of this last sentence: ‘I couldn’t persuade Obama not to pick her,’” Whelan wrote.

Tribe told the Wall Street Journal‘s Jess Bravin yesterday: “I don’t comment on my confidential advice to the president, and I regarded the letter I wrote in May 2009 as confidential. The fact that it was leaked doesn’t change my policy….I would also stress that the reservations I expressed about Justice Sotomayor prior to her appointment were amply refuted by the closer study I was later able to give her record and that have been fully negated by her performance as a justice.”

O’Connor robocall gaffe raises ethical questions (access required)

The robocall snafu that caused thousands of Nevada residents to be awakened in the middle of the night with a message from retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has opened a bigger can of worms.

Not only was the justice’s recorded message not intended to ring the phones of Nevadans at 1 a.m. Monday. O’Connor says she never intended for the message to be used at all in automated phone messages, blogs The National Law Journal‘s Tony Mauro.

“I did not authorize the use of my recorded statement as part of automated telephone calls to Nevada residents, and I regret that the statement was used in this way,” O’Connor said yesterday in a statement issued by the Court. “In addition, I view my efforts in support of judicial reform as consistent with the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges.”

The statement was released after a National Review Online piece questioned whether O’Connor’s advocacy for a ballot measure that would create a merit-based state judicial selection system violated ethics rules, since the retired justice still sits on federal courts. The Code of Conduct for United States Judges prevents federal judges from participating in political activities.

In the NRO piece, Ed Whelan notes that O’Connor cast the deciding vote Tuesday in Gonzalez v. Arizona, a 9th Circuit ruling striking down an Arizona law requiring voters to present identification and proof of citizenship before voting. “That’s just one illustration why the ethics rules bar her from engaging in political-campaign activity while still sitting as a federal judge,” Whelan wrote. Mauro notes that Whelan is also president of the D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.

While Whelan asserts that O’Connor’s participation may violate ethics rules, DePaul University College of Law Prof. Jeffrey Shaman tells Mauro that the Code of Conduct does not apply to Supreme Court justices, although justices have said they adhere to the code anyway.

“The idea was that Supreme Court justices are so visible that any misconduct could be taken care of through the political process,” Shaman said.

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